Director: Amit Malik
Cast: Simran Tooray, Poonam Mathur, Yudhvir Dahiya, Sachin Kathuria
Sneh might come across as a suspenseful and narratively unorthodox crime thriller, but it’s not. The murky middle-Delhi theme, unsubtle personality traits, something-is-up soundtrack and non-linear treatment demonstrate that the makers believe the same, too. Or perhaps that’s how they want us to approach it. But if we look at this fairly straightforward tale from less of a genre vantage point, it makes for far more effective viewing. And far more textural storytelling.
Around two minutes into Scoopwhoop’s twenty-minute “mini-web” film (read short film), it’s clear that Sneh is not quite plot-oriented, and more of an atmospheric, unsettling psychological drama – more in the mold of Jyoti Kapur Das’s superb Chutney, complete with a similar visual punch-line. This one, too, pivots on the mental machinations of two seemingly “unreliable” women: a young, submissive wife named Sneh (Simran Tooray), and her equally troubled mother-in-law (Poonam Mathur). The film begins with them mourning the sudden disappearance of the ‘man’ of the house, Manoj (Yudhvir Dahiya), whose colleagues in the police force start to investigate this strange case.
As the story unfolds in reverse order, it becomes more about the “why” than the “how” of the early twist. Working backwards in this case throws more light on the crumbling human aspect, the hidden secrets, of a tense household. Simultaneously, it becomes about how director Amit Malik designs a non-thrilling thriller – one that relies more on its activity and tone than any climactic sleight-of-hand tricks. Some of the dramatic nighttime portions are patchy, but there’s also an inspired example of compressed storytelling: a simple track-in of the camera through a misty doorway depicts the passage of time with only the sound of phone-call conversations serving as a narrative.
Sneh pivots on the mental machinations of two seemingly “unreliable” women: a young, submissive wife named Sneh (Simran Tooray), and her equally troubled mother-in-law (Poonam Mathur)
The more we see of Manoj’s character, his brashness, inbuilt misogyny and coarse body language, the lesser we expect to be taken by surprise. A monster is missing, and all we must know is his level of monstrousness in order to justify the moral theatricality of every sequence. As a result, this could very well pass off as a North Indian rendition of Ghost in the Machine, Ruchika Oberoi’s second (and best) portion of her three-pronged feature, Island City – in which a similar domestic duo (Amruta Subhash, Uttara Baokar), victims of middle-class Maharastrian patriarchy, find themselves torn between guilt and freedom after the man goes into a coma.
His absence gives them life. Though they eventually made the choice to exploit the loopholes of fate, Sneh and her mother-in-law are a little more deliberate in manufacturing their own destiny. The relative desolation of their environment leaves them with little choice.
Even the craft in both films is somewhat representative of its respective cultures: Oberoi’s film derived its conflicted mood from the shackled elegance of its performances, while Sneh is a bit filmy, paranoid and unforgiving in its functioning. But one senses that, with the predatory male away, these women too might have found release in a delusional Bollywood family movie or a regressively ‘sanskaari’ TV serial – perhaps the same medium of escapism that gave them the idea in first place.
The film ends on an alarmingly creepy note, too, again perhaps a direct derivation of a region where anything goes – especially behind closed doors. These non-creaky doors, and soundless skeletons in closets, are generally what define this particular Indian breed of “horror” films. They’re scarier than conventional spookfests because they aren’t mythical. The ghosts, as in Sneh’s case, mostly lie within.
Watch the short film here –